Romantic or platonic, meaningful relationships can help foster feelings of happiness, a sense of security, and much more.
Many of us aim to foster “meaningful” connections, with this word often being touted as somewhat of a Holy Grail when it comes to relationships.
According to Collins Dictionary, a meaningful relationship is: “A romantic relationship based upon mutual respect and supportiveness and marked by a sense of commitment and fulfillment.” Sounds pretty good to us, so it’s no surprise it’s something we strive for.
But how do we establish this type of relationship, and what qualities does it entail?
Why are meaningful relationships important?
We make numerous connections in all seasons and significance during our lives, from long lasting friendships to morning greetings with your coffee shop barista. So where do meaningful relationships fit into all of these?
“Meaningful relationships are the spice of life. They make life feel more worth it and generally bring more joy to this daily experience,” says Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, licensed marriage and family therapist Jeanae M. Hopgood.
If you don’t have a romantic significant other in your life, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on enjoying this type of connection.
Despite the dictionary definition, “meaningful relationships are not specific to one type,” Hopgood notes. “Platonic, professional, familial, and romantic meaningful relationships are beneficial to us all, and can be linked to how satisfied a person reports being with their life.”
It can often be simpler to establish a meaningful relationship when there’s no sex involved.
“Many of us find it a little easier to maintain a sense of enjoyment around a meaningful relationship that doesn’t involve the sometimes messiness of romance,” says Dr. David Bowers, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and owner of Thriveworks Polaris in Ohio.
How can you tell if a relationship is meaningful?
Relationships aren’t black and white, and there’s no set checklist that works for each one. As such, evaluating them in this way is “not necessarily helpful when it comes to things like meaningful relationships,” says Bowers.
Instead, it’s more about what you individually feel.
“When you’re with a person virtually or physically, and you have that sense of being able to be yourself, and at the same time feel really attuned to the other person and their joys and needs, then you can be pretty sure it’s a meaningful relationship,” Bowers reveals.
Feeling “meh” about meeting that friend for a coffee, or finding yourself more interested in your phone than their conversation? Chances are, your relationship isn’t too meaningful to you.
“You know when you care what happens to people [and] when you take time to invest in and nurture the relationship,” says Hopgood. “You know when you desire to connect in some way, and when you leave the interactions feeling fed and nourished.”
What are the key characteristics of a meaningful relationship?
As mentioned earlier, no specific set of qualities must be checked off for a relationship to be deemed as having meaning.
However, according to Hopgood, some to look out for (and nourish) are:
A relationship of any kind has to be a two-way street to flourish and succeed — and if one person continually takes but never gives anything back, the dynamic will quickly fail. According to Bowers, a sense of mutuality is also particularly important in meaningful relationships.
“Things might not be equal in terms of knowledge, experience, or other aspects of life, but there is some sort of mutuality of joy in knowing and being known by the other,” he says.
Tips to promote a meaningful relationship
Just as there are best practices to help establish this type of connection, there are also approaches to steer clear of.
You’ve met someone you click with, so want to accelerate that connection. Yet, tempted as you may be, it’s best to take things steady. Not only do you want to avoid scaring someone away, but “building meaningful relationships takes investment of self, and that tends to take time,” says Bowers.
Meaningful relationships are founded on trust and honesty, so being yourself is crucial. “Avoid any false pretenses or facades when trying to actually connect with others,” shares Hopgood. “Try not to be who you think they want you to be.”
Research from 2017 suggests different communication approaches can help foster some aspects of long-distance relationships.
Phone and video calls can encourage a sense of intimacy, for example, while writing letters promotes feelings of thoughtfulness. Even a 2021 studyTrusted Source showed texting was linked to higher relationship satisfaction for folks in long-distance relationships.
Give and take
Once again for those in the back: Meaningful relationships aren’t one-sided. As such, “be careful about categorizing a relationship as meaningful that may be unbalanced,” Hopgood says. This works both ways, whether you’re the one feeling taken for granted or acting with selfish motives.
Meaningful relationships can bring joy, make us feel secure and fulfilled, and cherished by another — to name a few factors.
They can be romantic or platonic, and exist in-person or virtually. While there’s no particular set of qualities that define meaningful relationships, some common attributes include thoughtfulness, kindness, openness, intention, and support.
Don’t forget to be yourself: Real connections are built on honesty — and if a person is worth your time, they’ll appreciate you for who you are.
If you’re interested in cultivating meaning and delving deeper with a friend or romantic partner here are two invaluable resources: